Written by Nicole
If you think about it, despite the mantra of Black Girl Magic, and (harmful, pervasive) declarations of being a Strong Black Woman, the collective of black women’s self-esteem is actually quite low. The things we do, such as sign up to be everybody’s simultaneous errand-girl, fighting for every single cause except our own, and their whipping-girl, the blame for everything, suggests it. The collective’s approach to motherhood, such as bearing children for any Tyrone, Daquan and Harquavious despite them not having earned that gift, suggests it. Our issuing of slavery-style beatings to those same children for asking questions, suggests it. The visceral hatred we have of our hair, skin, and features, suggests it too. The reasons for this are huge and multilayered and have been discussed in centuries past, and will continue to be discussed in centuries to come. I cannot and do not claim to have the answers, but I do hope to add my own two cents to the mix.
It is actually profitable to keep our self esteem low. Not to us as black women, mind you. Kendall St. Charles has often posited, “Cui bono?”. Who benefits from Black Women’s collective self-esteem being where it is?
Everybody benefits from black women having low self-esteem. By having some other group at the bottom, everyone feels the relief of being “better off” than someone else. And by not only that, by supporting the destructive behaviors that keep us there, with punchy slogans like “you’re a strong black woman who don’t need a man” and “real women have curves” (where curves are synonymous with obesity in this scenario), it ensures our position. This is why other black women react so viscerally to when other black women succeed using methods they attribute to “whiteness” – losing weight, getting higher education, kicking ass in the corporate world, and so on. Because she wants you to feel insecure like she does. This is why black women will practically have a stroke when someone criticizes certain hairstyles. Because she wants you to hate your hair like she does.
Interestingly enough, many of our fellow black women don’t want your self-esteem too get too high either, because, as the saying goes, misery loves company. You’ve probably heard the phrase “What, you think you’re better than me?” when you take up that new hobby or habit that is “atypical” in the realm of Black-tivities. Because you are black like her, you should be the same as her. It is a sad portrayal of the crabs in a barrel mentality.
Let’s have a closer look at who benefits from black women’s self-esteem being catastrophically low.
It should go without saying that black men are the biggest benefactor of keeping black women’s self-esteem at the earth’s core. By pushing the narrative that not only do black women not deserve anything good or fun or nice or luxurious, they not only cripple black women from looking outside the little black box, but it also makes sure that the most minimum of efforts they scrounge up will be deemed as satisfactory. They take to social media to ask struggle hypothetical questions, seeing how low you will drop the bar for access to you. And when you fall into the trap and say a hard no to a convicted felon who only reads at a third-grade level and sports 5 remaining teeth, you will get mocked and accused of being a gold-digging bitch.
Low self-esteem guarantees a steady supply of guard dogs, ready to protect and defend and attack on the black man’s behalf, be it through perpetual marching, an ATM, and sex-on-demand. By keeping the self-esteem low, black women will believe the frequently repeated lie that “no other man wants you” and bend over backwards to entertain a bum, believing a piece of a man, no matter how bummy or derelict, is better than no man at all. They make it clear not to expect any kind of protection from them, as they are the protected class in the community.
Black Love, a fairy tale pushed on black women more than the men, is ironically one of the driving forces behind keeping the collective’s self-esteem low. Black women seeking the Ideal Black Man will bend over backwards to change herself to appease him. This may look like frying or manipulating her 4c hair into submission so it looks like the curls of a biracial woman. Or she might purchase a two-for-one Butt Implant and punctured tire repair at her local shady garage surgeon. That low self-esteem keeps black women on the hamster wheel to be a version of herself that isn’t real, only to be rejected for some other reason anyway. Whatever the reason, black women do not benefit.
Our low self-esteem allows white women to mimic our features in an uncanny valley version of us, replete with fake tan, a physique courtesy of Build-a-body Workshop, and enough plumping lip gloss to keep Sephora in business for the next decade. Black women are so desperate to be seen, that they cosign white, nonblack, and barely black women into blackness, believing that the praise and adulation they receive for being a Not-So-Great Value version of a black woman will trickle down to us. And it never does. No other group of people is made to accept folks who don’t look anything like them, like black women do. The only time “we all black” is when it comes to racially ambiguous or altogether nonblack women seeking a claim on blackness. The only time blackness is graded on a scale or a spectrum is when that blackness is on a woman. Black men have no problems stating where blackness begins and ends, a lesson we could certainly learn from them.
Latina women are lauded for their “spiciness” or their fiery personalities. But when Black women behave in exactly the same way, we are aggressive, mean, nasty, and won’t let a man lead. By keeping our self-esteem low, Latinas can mock us for the very same character traits we share, and get away with it. Not to mention, their audacity is enabled by the black men who have deemed them more desirable too. It’s a two-pronged approach. Case in point, a recent example of Cyn Santana famously saying that black men cater Spanish women better, then having the nerve to use dark skinned women to repel her boyfriend. All that catering and still an unwed baby mama to a man who plays with dog penises and has allegedly beat previous girlfriends. Couldn’t be me!
I don’t frequent beauty supply stores, but in my own experience, it was very rare for me to find one that was not Asian owned. And not just Asian-owned, but smack dab in the middle of any black majority neighborhood. Black women and hair is a third rail topic of black womanhood, so I won’t be touching too much on that part of this conversation. I will say that Asian families have capitalized on our many issues surrounding our hair, and have cornered the market on supplying weaves, wigs and hair accessories. This in turn has fueled a multi-billion-dollar industry off the hatred of our hair. And while more and more black-owned and black-women-owned hair related businesses are showing up, they are a mere drop in the bucket at this stage in the game. But this too is multilayered. From the Tignon Laws of centuries past, to hair discrimination in the corporate world today, we have faced many challenges as it pertains to the way our hair grows out our head. Couple that with black men, once again at the scene, using rap and hip hop to share their own hatred of black hair, proudly declaring they don’t want women with nappy hair. Either way, we are not typically the ones profiting off of it.
Every time you say “white people do it too!” to somehow explain or defend some bad behavior or atrocity, you not only buy into those same white supremacist ideals, but you elevate them, making them a sort of ideal to aspire to. So yes, white people do in fact have children in poverty, abuse them, take illegal drugs, contract HIV, rape, pillage, destroy and run the gamut of downright toxic behavior, and in higher numbers. Because they do it, does that mean we should follow along? By keeping our self-esteem low, we elevate some other group as the ideal for our own group, and because they, as the “top performers” so to speak, do dangerous or stupid things without facing judgment or criticism, why can’t we? Let me say that I am not saying that black women are upholding white supremacy, mind you. Like everything else, it is hugely complicated. But our self-esteem issues certainly don’t hurt white supremacy’s hold.
Keeping the self-esteem of the collective of black women low is a profitable venture. It keeps the bar low across the board, and makes men think that all it will take to gain our affection and attention is an engagement ring made out of lint, and a smile. It gives other races of women unearned superiority by virtue of not being black (coupled with their pedestalization from black men). The many issues around our hair put billions of dollars into the industry that we monetarily support, but never see any benefit from.
Realistically speaking, the benefactors on this list are doing what they are “supposed” to do – capitalize on someone else’s weakness and make it their strength. For black men, why work hard and be about something when you can belittle black women and still have easy sexual access? For white and Latina women, why be seen as a Plain Jane in their own communities, when they can throw on some bronzer and overline their lips, and get praised as Black 2.0? And for Asian families, why leave money on the table when you can shave the head of disenfranchised Indian women, and sell that hair at a 1000% profit? As such, it is up to us as individual black women of a certain mindset to confront these things that make us feel bad about ourselves, and address them. The world has profited off our labor and pain for far too long.
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Nicole, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.